In life mistakes happen. In fact, they happen all the time because we’re imperfect humans. Quite often that means we need to mend fences if we want to overcome mistakes and restore trust. If you look up the phrase “fence-mending” one definition you’ll see comes from Dictionary.com; “the practice of reestablishing or strengthening personal, business, or political contacts and relationships by conciliation or negotiation, as after a dispute, disagreement, or period of inactivity.” Because mistakes are inevitable we need to know how to overcome the negative impact they can have on relationships. Let’s take a look at a simple three step process.
Step one is to apologize. The good news is apologizing isn’t a skill you don’t possess. Apologizing is a choice any of us can make. It might feel awkward and uncomfortable but we can all choose to apologize if we can let go of our fear and negative emotions.
Ask for Forgiveness
It’s always good to know whether or not your apology was accepted. Simply ask, “Do you forgive me?” I’ve had people say that’s awkward in business so another approach might be asking, “Are we good?” There are two possible outcomes: you’re forgiven or you’re not.
If you’ve been forgiven that’s cool so leave it alone. In sales there’s something called “selling past the close,” and it can be fatal to making the sale. If someone says they want to buy then it’s time to shut up because talking more might cause them to change their mind! By the same token, when someone forgives you it’s time to shut up because your continued talking might reopen the wound you want to heal.
Let’s say the other person doesn’t acknowledge your request for forgiveness or says they don’t forgive you. Take the high road. You might say, “I’m sorry you feel that way. I can’t change the past so all I can do is apologize and try to do better going forward.” If nothing else you can leave the situation knowing you did the right thing. And maybe, just maybe the other person will forgive you in that moment or sometime down the road.
If you get the opportunity to prove yourself take it! I also encourage you to make sure the other person knows about your change. Let’s say you got a report in late and that negatively impacted a teammate at work. The next time you have to turn something in look to get in to your coworker a day or two in advance of when they asked for it. When you give it to them you might say, “I know I blew it last time but I wasn’t going to let that happen again so I wanted to get you this as quickly as I could.” Actions speak louder than words but words can be used to highlight your actions and bring them to consciousness for the other person.
There are a couple of silver linings with mistakes. First, sometimes when you work to correct mistakes relationships can actually improve. For example, some studies show people rate the service higher at restaurants and hotels when there was some mix up but it was corrected to the satisfaction of the customer. Why is that? When you go out of your way to make things right you engage reciprocity. Most people see that extra effort and feel obligated to give a better tip, rating or satisfaction score.
Another silver lining is this; admitting a mistake can make you more trustworthy and enhance your authority with others. Authority is the principle of influence that tells us people defer to those with superior wisdom, knowledge or expertise. Authority rests on two things – credibility (you know what you’re doing) and trustworthiness (you can be counted on). The net positive with enhancing trust is increased authority which means people are more likely to follow your lead or advice down the road.
This week I encourage you to actively look for your mistakes that impact others. When you see them, don’t wait for someone else to discover them, own up to them immediately. This taps into Dale Carnegie’s advice, “When you’re wrong, admit it quickly and emphatically.” Doing so will allow you to practice a much-needed skill for interpersonal relationships and make it easier to do when the stakes are higher.